Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

S.E. Williams | Executive Editor

In the weeks and months leading to Tuesday’s Presidential election, discussion raged locally and across the country about Black men and whether they would sit out the election as many did in 2016.

Participating in the democratic process is an important responsibility of citizens and just as important is understanding why some Blacks—especially Black men—feel disengaged and disillusioned to the extent they willingly forfeit their right to suffrage.

It is well documented systemic racism and racial violence, whether physical, economic, political, or social, has confined too many Black men to second class citizenship that too often becomes permanent. This is why despite the number of Black men who turn away from the polls, so many more have opted to stay in the fight for a better life for themselves and their families by exercising their franchise during every election.

Longtime inland area resident J. Benjamin is one of those committed Black male voters. Benjamin, who is also a small business owner who was compelled to modify his business model to stay afloat during the COVID-19 crisis, spoke openly about his commitment to voting in a recent exchange with the Black Voice News and IE Voice.

“It is important that we as Black men get out there and try to make a difference,” Benjamin stated passionately. “There is no perfect candidate, and it is important to make our voices heard.”

Benjamin who turns 50-years-old next year highlighted how voting—for Black people—is especially important when you remember the past, look at the present and consider the future.

Today, data show the Black community is bearing a disproportionate burden in relation to COVID-19 infections and deaths, nearly 50% percent of Black businesses have failed, and Black men (and women) are once again experiencing the economic hardships that come with being the group of workers most severely impacted by the loss of jobs as the economy sputters under the weight of COVID.

The impact of COVD-19 on the environment as a whole and Black workers, is real. The unemployment rate for Black men has more than doubled in recent months with unemployment rates of 29.8% for those between the ages of 16- to 19 and an unimaginable 27.1% for Black men between 20 and 24 years of age.

As noted, COVID-19 has devastated Black-owned businesses. Such a devastating impact on Black-owned businesses may in large part be the result of a lack of access to Paycheck Protection Program loans that failed to throw a lifeline to Black businesses—as documented, only 20% of small businesses in states and counties with the highest density of Black-owned businesses benefited from the program.

Even under normal circumstances most Black businesses never benefit from funding the federal government allocates each year to the tune of about $25 billion in loans to businesses, of which Black-owned businesses only receive about $750 million or a mere 3% of the total.

Voting to help ensure the right people are at the table when decisions impacting Black lives in relation to these and other pressing issues essential for Blacks and their communities to thrive is just the beginning.

Many advocates believe it is equally important the government does not limit the role labor unions play in helping to ensure a living wage and other important benefits, especially for Black workers. This is important because Black union members earn nearly 14% more and are nine times wealthier than their non-union counterparts. In addition, they are more likely to have employer provided benefits like health care and retirement.

For the large number of Blacks who work as federal employees it is important to have a voice at the table when government officials make decisions impacting them to help ensure the impact such decisions have on the Black community are kept in mind. In 2018, Blacks were 10.5 percent of the civilian labor force but represented 18.4 percent of federal employees. Advocates believe the same should hold true for government employees at the state and local levels.

Better paying jobs like many in government can provide access to home ownership as a foundation for building intergenerational wealth. Blacks, however, remain at a bitter disadvantage in this regard when one considers approximately 74 percent of White families own their own homes compared to only 44% of Black families. This also demonstrates the importance of having representation at the table when rules and regulations regarding fair lending practices are considered.

The same holds true in relation to important decisions impacting the education of Black children. In 2020, Black boys are still three times more likely to be suspended than their White peers, making it imperative Blacks have a voice in designing rules to protect Black children from racial bias in school discipline as well as access to quality education and equal access to institutions of higher learning as provided under the auspices of Affirmative Action.

Whether working for criminal justice reform, funding for small businesses, an increase in the minimum wage, access to affordable health care, the ability to purchase a home, quality education and the list goes on, Benjamin agreed the battle for parity in all  these areas must continue and one way to help ensure Blacks see the change they hope for is to elected officials who commit to advocate and work on issues of importance to the Black community and then hold them accountable to their words.

He expressed his understanding as a Black man, of the frustration that has led many to turn away from the political process; but disagreed with this approach as a viable way to express one’s displeasure with the way things are. For Benjamin, however frustrating it appears at times, he still believes voting is the optimal way forward.

“[Voting] does matter,” he advised. “If it did not matter, they would not go through all this trouble to stop us from voting”

Speaking specifically about Tuesday’s election he stated, “If they cheat and take your vote, you don’t have control over that, but it is still important for you to vote. It’s like being a runner who refuses to enter the race because he thinks the referee is going to cheat,” he offered as an example. “You don’t have control over what the referee does, what matters is that you enter the race and do your best. The same thing is true when it comes to voting.”

Benjamin noted the importance of using the ballot to help shape the future Black men want for themselves and their families, a future he stated will never be attained by refusing to utilize the most important tool available to Black men—the ballot. “Every election is important. We must elect people who represent our interests and vote for issues on the ballot to improve the lives of our families and our community.”

Benjamin said he is as frustrated as most Black men when he considers all the challenges they must confront trying to make their way in America, but concluded rather than being disillusioned and refusing to exercise his right to vote, it just makes him more determined to do so. “To me it is obvious, the more roadblocks put up to keep us from voting, the more determined we should be to vote.”

Graph – Black voter turnout rate declined sharply in 2016 (Courtesy: Pew Research)

In 2016, the Black vote was down more than eight points from 2012 as many Blacks felt both presidential candidates, Donald J. Trump and Hillary Clinton, were unacceptable and unwilling to settle for the least flawed candidate, decided not to vote.

Regardless of whether or how this may have contributed to President Trump’s victory, in December 2016 The Washington Post reported President elect Trump offered a special message of appreciation in response to his electoral victory, “Thank you to the African American community.” According to the report, the sentiment was directed to the 1.6 million Black voters who stayed home or for whatever reasons were unable to cast ballots four years ago.

 

S.E. Williams is Editor of the Black Voice News and IE Voice.